Anyone who wears make-up will know the transformative effect it can have on facial features and how it can boost an individual’s self-confidence. It can create an illusion, a character, a different persona and give us a sense of self. So, is it possible that the creative process of applying make-up as art, can have the power to heal on a deeper level as an individual as well as bringing people and communities together? Having direct experience of this, I believe it can and, I aim to explore this question here and discuss how I, as an individual, have experienced the healing power of make-up as art.
Over a quarter of a century ago, I embarked on a career in make-up artistry. Over the years my work has evolved from working on weddings to editorial shoots to teaching make-up artistry. I have witnessed the positive effects make-up can have on an individual or a collective group of people. But, it wasn’t until 2013 – when in an effort to try and understand what was happening in my external world, I subconsciously drew on my creative practice in make-up artistry to look inwards – that I truly understood the capacity it held to heal. So, in 2013, I took my first tentative steps towards using my skills in make-up artistry to find a safe way to communicate and process my thoughts, emotions and beliefs.
“The creative process is to a large extent unconscious and by engaging in creative activities we can touch on or release deep emotions, beliefs and memories. By expressing these we can become conscious of them and start to re-process past events and relationships…”
I began treading new territory and pushed boundaries with a new creative direction as I moved from working solely on the face to painting the body. One of my greatest challenges. Nonetheless, when I am painting, I am in the flow of the moment. A concentrated focus, it is mentally and physically exhausting, but deeply rewarding.
Triste was a concept that took form whilst I was on a photography and painting retreat in 2015, at a Buddhist retreat centre near the village of Balquhidder; known locally as the thin place, which is an expression derived from old Celtic belief that the veil between this world and the otherworld is thin in places, allowing faery folk to pass between the two. There is certainly a tangible form of magic and tranquillity that is present in this part of the world.
The daily meditations on this retreat provided the stillness I needed to hear my thoughts clearly for the first time. During one meditation, we were asked to meditate on a leaf of our choice. I chose a fern leaf, interestingly, a plant I associate with Faeries. As we were guided through the meditation, we were asked to focus our attention on the leaf we held in our hands; its texture; its weight; its very essence and find words that described that essence and colours associated with those words. On opening our eyes, we were asked to create a painting or sketch using the colours and words in our mind’s eye and the leaf we held. I sat, heavy with sorrow; but, for the first time I turned towards it and allowed myself to be immersed, welcoming it as a guide and companion; tapping into a reservoir of undiscovered creativity to express visually through colours and texture, what I could not yet verbalise in words. Using the fern to guide me, I slowly began painting in my sketch book.
Triste was born from a place of deep emotional turmoil. By accepting and hearing its silent words, I was able to lovingly and tenderly care for it. I began to see beauty in this turmoil as it was transformed into a visual entity on paper, moving through the veil of a ‘thin place’ and its mist, from one world into another and recreated and embodied onto the human form.
In 2016, I took the concept of working with the body one step further with Timeless Time, a triptych which represents my soul, body and mind and my disconnection to each. The image you see here represents the body. Due to the nature of what I was trying to visualise and communicate I chose myself as the model for this project. Although Timeless Time is my concept, I worked collaboratively with another body painter (Lynn) and photographer (Leigh Bishop Photography) to create what you see here today.
With help from Lynn, I painted different colours onto my body. Each stroke of colour was primal, textured in its application, symbolising the different emotions and spiritual meanings related to each aspect of the soul, body and mind. Leigh added to this by creating more depth and texture through her photography. The creative process was at times emotionally fraught, filled with doubts and insecurities. Was I being narcissistic painting my thoughts and emotions onto my body to exhibit? I have given this a lot of thought and I don’t think I was. Alongside these doubts, I was able to explore my true intentions behind Timeless Time and the process behind it.
“Such practices and arts acknowledge the body’s vulnerability and its propensity to be overtaken by suffering. Yet the body is also the bearer of hope and the will to live” (Thomas, 2014).
It was to give each thought, emotion and feeling an identity of their own; a voice of their own; and a home of their own in order to live outside of me. Trapped as they are within the confinements of a photographic image, I am now able to see these experiences as separate entities to me. The ritualised painting of my face and body in Timeless Time, helped me to reunite my connection to this life, to this body, to this mind and this soul. A process which has allowed for deep healing and recovery to take place within me. This is the healing power of make-up as art.
“Healing through body-painting: to be wild, different, to be yourself, to be at one with everyone and everything” (Groning, 1997).
Groning K. (1997). Decorated Skin, A World Survey of Body Art. London: Thames & Hudson
Thomas N. (2014). Body Art. London: Thames & Hudson